Libyans band together to help Tripoli’s displaced

World Health Organization said more than 2,000 people were injured during battles in Tripoli. (AFP/File)
Updated 16 May 2019

Libyans band together to help Tripoli’s displaced

  • More than 60,000 civilians were displaced from their homes in Tripoli
  • World Health Organization said the fighting in Tripoli killed more than 450 people

TRIPOLI: Peering through the gate of a home in the western suburbs of Libya’s war-torn capital, seven-year-old Chehab shyly looked on as children streamed down the nearby street.
“I’ll just play by myself,” he muttered, holding a ball under one arm.
“I don’t know anyone in this neighborhood.”
He is one of the more than 60,000 civilians who have fled their homes in Tripoli since early April, when forces loyal to commander Khalifa Haftar began their push to take the capital.
While some have found refuge at shelters throughout the city, many more have instead turned to relatives and even mere acquaintances as Libyans band together to find homes for the displaced.
Chehab and his family arrived at his uncle’s home in Janzur in mid-April after fleeing the southern suburb of Ain Zara as it turned into a front-line battlefield.
Nearly a month later, his 10-year-old sister Alia misses the comforts of home.
“I want to go home and go back to school,” she sighed.
“The school closed again because of the war and I had to leave my friends, my room and my toys.”
Their father Abdelhafid would have liked to find a furnished apartment for the family to rent for the holy month of Ramadan, but it proved too expensive.
“I don’t know what I would have done if my brother hadn’t opened his door,” the high school geography teacher said.
An initial lightning advance by Haftar’s forces on April 4 was quickly bogged down by militias loyal to the UN-recognized unity government — which is based in Tripoli — as they rushed to defend the capital.
The fighting has killed 454 people and wounded more than 2,000 others, according to the World Health Organization.
The European Union warned Monday that Haftar’s offensive on the capital was a threat to international peace.
But front lines have since largely frozen and the intensity of the fighting has dipped with the beginning of Ramadan.
The clashes are centered along the capital’s southern gates, particularly in Ain Zara.
But the fighting also extends elsewhere, including the districts of Salaheddin and Khalat Al-Ferjan, as well as Tripoli’s international airport which was destroyed in 2014 fighting.
“Our main concern is with civilians living near the front lines,” said Youness Rahoui, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Tripoli.
“Densely populated neighborhoods are gradually becoming battlefields.”
Habiba left her home near the airport in a hurry after neighbors told her they were fleeing the area.
For her, finding room with relatives or at a shelter were not options.
But her husband’s friends came to the rescue, securing the family an apartment in the western neighborhood of Siyahia that had once been used as an office by a foreign company.
The family sleeps on mattresses nestled between a clutter of desks and chairs, but Habiba still believes they are “lucky.”
“Our loved ones often don’t have the space or the means to welcome an entire family,” she said, adding she hoped to join her husband who lives abroad.
“The school year is ruined anyway,” she said, hinting that taking her children along for the journey would not affect their studies.
Classes have been suspended across the capital, and schools in several districts have been transformed into makeshift shelters for the displaced.
Many homes in the southern suburbs have been damaged or completely destroyed by the fighting.
Gasr Ben Ghachir, one of the heaviest hit areas, lies almost completely abandoned.
But 29-year-old Hamza has stayed behind to “stand guard” against looters, while his family takes refuge with relatives.
He doesn’t “feel comfortable staying at other people’s homes,” he told AFP by phone.
But he will need a break from guard duty in a few days, when his supplies run out.
“The past few weeks have been tough and I need a rest,” he said.


UN tries to salvage Libya talks after Tripoli govt withdraws

Updated 36 min 44 sec ago

UN tries to salvage Libya talks after Tripoli govt withdraws

  • Salame was trying to convince the Tripoli delegation to stay in Geneva and resume indirect talks

GENEVA/CAIRO: The UN tried to salvage talks over a cease-fire for Libya on Wednesday after the government based in Tripoli said it was pulling out after a single day to protest against the shelling of the capital’s port.

Talks began on Tuesday in Geneva between the internationally recognized Tripoli government and its main rivals, the eastern-based Libya National Army (LNA), which has been trying to take the capital.

Late on Tuesday, the government said it would suspend its participation after the LNA shelled Tripoli port in the latest of several strategic plays by troops loyal to eastern commander Khalifa Haftar that have coincided with attempts to ease tensions.

Delegations in Geneva

UN Libya envoy Ghassan Salame was trying to convince the Tripoli delegation to stay in Geneva and resume indirect talks, a source close to the talks said and the UN confirmed.

“Delegations are still here (in Geneva) and Dr. Salame has a meeting today with the head of the GNA delegation,” said Jean El-Alam, spokesman for the UN Libya mission, referring to the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord. 

“The mission leadership is in contact with the GNA in Tripoli and member states to keep the momentum going.”

In a separate statement, the UN mission said it was “expressing its strong and renewed condemnation of the bombing of Tripoli’s seaport yesterday by the Libyan National Army.” 

There was no immediate comment from either side. 

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu met with Haftar and they discussed to resolve the conflict in the north African state, the ministry said in a statement.

They agreed a political settlement is the only option for Libya, according to RIA news agency.

Shoigu and Haftar also discussed “the important role of talks” held in Moscow in January as well as “the need to fulfil” terms agreed at an international summit in Berlin later last month, Moscow said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday that outside players should push both sides in Libya to sit down for peace talks.

“All those who in one way or another influence political or other forces in Libya should stimulate them to sit down for talks. The first steps in this direction were taken but now additional difficulties are coming up again,” Lavrov said while meeting his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi in Moscow, RIA Novosti news agency reported.

Nearly nine years after rebel fighters backed by NATO airstrikes overthrew Muammar Qaddafi, Libya still has no central authority. The streets are controlled by armed groups, with rival governments based in Tripoli and the east.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu met with Haftar and they agreed a political settlement is the only option for Libya, according to RIA news agency.

• Since the LNA marched on Tripoli nearly a year ago, fighting has displaced 150,000 people.

Since the LNA marched on Tripoli nearly a year ago, fighting has displaced 150,000 people. Both sides have support from an array of foreign governments, with Turkey supporting the Tripoli government.

The Geneva meetings have so far been held in different rooms, with Salame shuttling between the parties. Another round of talks is scheduled next week in Geneva.

The latest attack is part of an emerging pattern amounting to an apparent power play by the commander.

Haftar’s forces last month shut down Libya’s main oil ports as European and Arab powers and the US were meeting with his supporters in Berlin aimed at halting the campaign to capture the capital. 

In 2019, eastern military forces moved to western Libya just as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres arrived.

The LNA initially said its strikes on Tuesday had targeted a Turkish vessel bringing weapons. It later said it had hit an arms depot.

The port is the main entry gate for wheat, fuel and other imports for Tripoli and has also been used by Turkey to send military trucks and other equipment to its government allies.

Related